Random ramblings on music and movies

Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson

xXx strikes back – a Return of Xander Cage review

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I originally came across Vin Diesel one random weekend during my childhood when I got my hands on a rental copy of The Chronicles of Riddick precursor Pitch Black, but it wasn’t until my friend Mark introduced me to The Fast and the Furious sometime around 2002 that the iconic action star really landed on my radar. In fact, I became such a big fan of his work that I even went to see The Pacifier when it was released in theatres, so it should come as no surprise when I say that I loved the first xXx film. However, after fifteen years and an ill-advised sequel starring Ice Cube, I didn’t have high hopes for the long-gestating Return of Xander of Cage.
My concerns weren’t quelled by the fact that the movie spent more than half a decade in development hell before the studio decided to drop it in one of the year’s most notorious dump months. While I did enjoy how delightfully daft the trailers were, all else seemed to point to this extremely tardy third entry in the series being an unmitigated mess. Having said that, I was still willing to give director DJ Caruso a chance to win me over and, as it turns out, he’s actually delivered a surprisingly superlative spy thriller.
Packed with plenty of predictably cheesy one-liners and absolutely absurd stunts, xXx: Return of Xander of Cage is every bit as ridiculous as you might expect, but the whole thing is executed with more than enough enthusiasm and self-awareness to excuse its decidedly silly tone.
The story starts with an assault on a CIA base in New York during which a weapon capable of causing untold chaos is captured by a collection of collusive individuals who seemingly seek to exploit its power for the purpose of progressing their own nefarious agenda. This leads to the recruitment of the eponymous protagonist, who’s tasked with tracking down these terrorists and saving the world from certain disaster.
The particulars of the plot aren’t all that important though because the main draw of a movie such as this is undoubtedly its action and Return of Xander Cage definitely doesn’t disappoint in that department. There’s no shortage of exciting set-pieces to keep the pulse pounding as the proceedings play out, almost all of which rivet due to the astonishing talents of martial arts expert Donnie Yen.

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Having blown the world away as blind badass Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One last month, the Hong Kong native knocks it out of the park again here as he impresses with his parkour prowess in the prologue before bringing the thrills during a turbo-charged throw-down in traffic and topping it all off by showcasing some spectacular combat skills during the adrenaline-fuelled final act.

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Even though Yen steals the show as far as the fighting goes, that doesn’t mean that the movie’s main star is in any way overshadowed. From an appropriately over the top introduction involving skis, skateboarding and soccer to a fantastically farcical skydive out of an exploding plane, Diesel does a good job of demonstrating that Xander is still every bit the extreme sports enthusiast he was in the first film. It’s refreshing to see the Fast and Furious frontman portraying a more playful protagonist than the likes of Dominic Toretto and Richard B. Riddick and the upbeat attitude he exudes whenever he’s onscreen is extremely infectious.

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As for the rest of the cast, Nina Dobrev turns in a captivatingly quirky performance as weapons specialist Rebecca Clearidge, Ruby Rose displays an endearingly defiant demeanour as master markswoman Adele Wolff, Toni Collette is sufficiently forceful as CIA overseer Jane Marke and Deepika Padukone serves as a suitably scrappy love interest as Serena, even if she’s not quite as effective as Asia Argento’s Yelena from the first film.

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Unfortunately Samuel L. Jackson and Tony Jaa are relegated to the background as NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons and the antagonistic Talon, respectively, which feels like a missed opportunity, particularly in the case of the latter, but thankfully their underutilisation doesn’t end up having an adverse effect on the film as a whole.
When all is said and done, there’s no denying that this movie isn’t particularly deep or meaningful. Its plot could be easily picked apart and its set-pieces transcend the boundaries of believability to the point that it’s preposterous. However, none of this changes the fact that xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a superbly fun popcorn flick that remains relentlessly rousing for every second of its high-octane hundred and seven minutes. Time will tell whether the box office returns allow for a follow-up, but I for one would be more than happy to embrace another sequel if it’s anywhere near as good-natured and engaging as this.

Rating: 8/10.

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